I take lentils for granted. I’ve had bursts of creativity using them, but for the most part they sit in my pantry while I reach for bigger, more tempting members of the legume family week in and week out. Until one day, I’m out of cans of chickpeas, don’t have any cooked beans in the fridge or freezer, and don’t feel like taking out the pressure cooker to bang out a new batch.
That’s when lentils are my savior. They cook so quickly (even without soaking), and I can simmer them until tender for use in salads, pasta dishes, tacos and the like.
Or I can do what feels most right this time of year and toss them into soups and stews. My latest inspiration for the latter approach comes from America’s Test Kitchen’s book “Nutritious Delicious.” It’s a Thai-style red curry, but with much less coconut milk (and therefore, less fat), a combination of black lentils and tofu for protein, and barely cooked red bell peppers and snow peas for crunch.
Every ingredient plays its part, but the lentils are the backbone, dependable as ever.
Thai red curry with lentils and tofu
If you’re not a vegetarian, feel free to replace the tofu in this recipe with precooked cubed ham or bacon pieces.
14 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into ½-inch pieces
½ teaspoon salt, or more as needed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste, such as Thai Kitchen brand
2½ cups water
1 tablespoon white or red miso
1 cup black lentils (may substitute French green lentils or brown or regular green lentils)
½ cup canned coconut milk
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into ¼-inch strips
4 ounces snow peas (strings removed), halved lengthwise
½ cup lightly packed chopped basil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 scallions, trimmed and cut crosswise into thin slices
Spread the tofu on a baking sheet lined with paper towels and let it drain for at least 20 minutes. Gently press dry with paper towels and season with the salt and pepper.
Pour the oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the water, miso and lentils, increase the heat to medium-high and bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender and about two-thirds of the liquid has been absorbed, 30 to 35 minutes.
Stir in the coconut milk. Add the tofu (or meat), bell pepper and snow peas, and increase the heat to medium-high. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tofu is warmed through and the vegetables are crisp-tender, 2 minutes.
Turn off the heat, stir in the basil and lime juice. Taste, and add more salt, as needed. Sprinkle with the scallions and serve.
Makes 4 to 6 servings. Nutrition per serving (based on 6): 170 calories, 9 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, no cholesterol, 450 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 2 grams sugar.
— Recipe adapted from “Nutritious Delicious: Turbocharge Your Favorite Recipes with 50 Everyday Superfoods,” by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen (2017).